Sixth generation farmer and third year veterinary student Dione Howard brings us today’s guest blog, where she explains beautifully why today’s best and brightest minds are “addicted to agriculture.”
This is Dione’s story……
Whether it’s the smell of freshly turned earth or the hum of handpieces in the shearing shed, there’s something irresistible about agriculture.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a rural community in the heart of Australia’s beautiful Riverina region. We rode on the back of the ute when Dad fed sheep, sat on the sidekick seat in the header and played hide and seek as the canola flowers towered above us.
I think I realised how important this ‘farming’ business was when I was sinking my teeth into agriculture during high school at St. Paul’s College, Walla Walla. I travelled far and wide with the sheep and cattle show team, agricultural tours and participating in competitions such as the Dubbo Speech Spectacular. In doing so, I met other young people like me. These people loved everything that the land was about – whether it was what they ran on it, grew from it or put back into it.
I’m the sixth generation on our family farm which operates sheep and winter cropping enterprises. Illawarra Merino Stud was started by my great grandfather Ernie Howard 80 years ago and today is run by my grandfather Ken and father Graeme. I’ve inherited their enthusiasm for sheep and wool and I am completing my woolclassing certificate so that I can better understand the intricacies of Merino breeding and trait selection.
There’s something about agriculture that I find a challenge. I love that we don’t know all the answers but we can work hard to find them out. That’s why I decided to study to become a veterinarian. I’m in my third year of university now and as the process unfolds we’re learning how to solve the problem, rather than just be given the answers. That’s what I want to be able to help producers to do in my professional career – provide tools to work towards the best possible methods of animal production. These may be economically, sustainably or socially beneficial, or hopefully all of these combined.
Studying at Charles Sturt University (CSU) is great preparation for life as a rural vet. We’ve gained experience with many species, from intensive pig and poultry production to sheep, beef and dairy cattle. I’ve been lucky enough to work with companies such as Rivalea, Baiada and Rennylea Angus, where I’ve gained animal husbandry expertise from the best in the business.
Extra-curricular activities I’ve participated in while at university have given me some of my most memorable experiences. In 2013 I got involved in the CSU Intercollegiate Meat Judging team and I’ve been recommending it to other students ever since! At first I questioned getting up at 5am on a freezing winter morning to visit the abattoirs, however soon realised that in this short time I would gain invaluable experience about Australia’s meat industry from paddock to plate.
I’ve also been involved in the National Merino Challenge (NMC) since its inception in 2013. I’m excited for the future of this event as it’s been able to establish itself as a key date on the calendar for youth in the Merino industry. The NMC enables youth with varying levels of experience to engage with almost all aspects of Merino production and develops skills that can be applied to wider lamb and cattle production. I travelled to Dubbo in 2013 and Melbourne in 2014 to compete in the Challenge and this year will head to Adelaide in May.
During the university holidays I work for grain brokers Agfarm. Lots of people give me funny looks when I tell them I’m studying to be a vet and work in the grain industry. What many people seem to forget is that all of agriculture is integrated. Animals have to eat and likewise plants can use animal waste products to grow. Even as vets, my peers and I have to know about plants and grains because nutrition is so important to animal production. At Agfarm I’ve learnt about the supply chain of grain from farmers’ paddocks to its many possible destinations across Australia and globally.
What I’ve realised about agriculture is that everyone is connected. If you eat food, you make decisions every day that affect Australia’s farmers. That’s why I believe agricultural engagement is so important. It’s vital that every person has the chance to access information and make an informed decision about what they’re buying. And what better place to start than at school level? This is the age where students are taught basic experimental skills in a laboratory, research processes on the internet and communication abilities in the classroom. This is the age where they can best learn to apply all of these fundamentals to agriculture and its endless career possibilities.
Ever since I’ve been involved in agriculture we’ve been told that the world’s population is growing at a rapid rate and it will be a challenge to feed everyone in the future. I believe that our youth are ready to take on the challenge. I’m incredibly lucky to be involved in agriculture at a time when the sector is full of passionate and talented people.
These people are addicted to agriculture, from the emergence of the first leaf of their crop to the scales as they get a final weight for their finished stock. The future is bright for agriculture – we’ve got a lot to be passionate about. We have a lot to celebrate. Lets do it together
Follow Dione on twitter @dione_howard